This article is written to anyone wishing to navigate and leverage the software tsunamis hitting even the most distant corners of the world in the coming decade. It is an article that helps organisations find their sweet spot in an ever-changing, faster-pacing, and more cluttered world. Any leader, executive, manager, investor, inventor, intrapreneur or entrepreneur who recognise the feeling of steering the Titanic — not sure if heading straight into an iceberg, or on the safe path to the land of opportunity — can sustain their organizations better by understanding the software tsunamis explained in this article.
By identifying where software continues to improve and accelerate our macrocosm, professionals get a sneak peek into what is heading towards their microcosm. Managers and executives who seek to find an edge for their company; employees, interns and students who want to get ahead in their careers; NGOs and non-profit organisations that wish to help more people by utilizing technology to its fullest extent. Software is eating the world, but in so doing, it is also feeding it, as we wrote about in the book Software is Feeding the World.
Having worked with some of the most ambitious organisations, myself and my colleagues at Wiredelta made it our life’s mission to understand and navigate the tsunamis faced by organisations worldwide. On a planet inhabited by people with shorter and shorter attention spans, what sustains is what truly improves lives. Not the latest gimmick. Not the fancy new startup that raised gazillions despite not launching a product yet. What sustains is what people find meaning and utility in. When reading this article, you will understand what software tsunamis to ride in order to sustain, software that matters, so your organisation can break through the clutter and stay relevant.
Tsunami #1. 5G will catapult connectivity and the IoT revolution
Get ready for next-level internet speed. The fifth generation of wireless technologies — also referred to as 5G networks — will completely change how we use the internet and empower a technologically reliant society that hates to wait.
It has been called the “cable killer“, as 5G technologies have the potential to reduce or eliminate the need for wireline services for basic broadband services. According to Huawei, 5G networks may “support 1,000-fold gains in capacity, connections for at least 100 billion devices and a 10 Gb/s individual user experience of extremely low latency and response times.” Adding to this positive development, SpaceX is in full swing with Starlink deploying a network of satellites providing high-speed internet to even the most distant corners in the world.
This means, starting in 2020 and beyond, 5G networks will open up the possibilities for Internet of Things (IoT) to roll out, starting with smart homes, then moving on to smart cities and eventually entire smart countries. IoT devices will connect and respond to one another to make your life easier and more productive.
Turn off your alarm clock, and a chain reaction will start to unfold, Jetsons-style. Your coffee machine will start to brew your favourite cup of Joe. Your bath will start pouring water as you enter the bathroom. Your radio will autoplay curated news. Your windows automatically open to clear the air after a long night’s sleep. Your thermostat adjusts the temperature, as the fresh air pours into the bedroom, and the steam from the bathroom starts to move into other rooms. The possibilities are endless really, and the algorithms powering these devices are learning from your habits, optimised to reduce energy costs and increase comfort. Your house doors will open and lock themselves as you leave, and your car will be warmed up ready to take you to work with the radio channel of your preference, the car seat and mirrors adjusted just right.
Now imagine you scale up this kind of interconnectedness from your house to the entire city. Traffic lights will optimize traffic flow. Your GPS will continuously receive data about other cars and events on the road, finding new routes as data comes in. The GPS also knows from your coffee machine if you forgot to drink it. It asks you respectively if you want to do a quick stop at the local coffee shop on the way. In case you do, an order will be sent immediately so the coffee is ready when your car arrives, wasting no time waiting in line. Reports show that smart cities will be able to save residents 125 hours on average per year due to improved health, increased mobility and better public safety.
With devices connecting everything around us, safe and efficient databases will be needed to power IoT and much more in the decade to come. Luckily, we are on the path to accomplish exactly that.
Tsunami #2. Blockchains will ensure transparent and secure data handling
There is a revolution happening in data storage and processing.
Traditionally, records of data are stored, processed and validated by central databases managed by trusted institutions, organisations or companies. Blockchain opens up the opportunity for a system to remove the need for trust. A trustless system. This is a technical breakthrough, because with traditional databases managed from a centralised datacenter there will always be central points of failure. Hackers who want to access data illegally know where to attack. This puts data at risk, as malevolent entities could gain access and alter, erase or steal the data. Adding to the problems related to a central point of failure, the systems powering our most sensitive data — from bank transactions to medical records — are typically stored, processed and validated on ancient mainframe systems dating back to the 1950s!
Blockchain, on the other hand, is built on a distributed ledger system, meaning data is not stored in one central database or datacenter. Instead, data is stored in a network of computers — or nodes — that maintain identical copies of the data in an anonymous and encrypted way. Rather than having one central datacenter, distributing data across a network removes the central point of failure. Data cannot be tampered with because of the numerous copies spread out in the network, and because of the peer-to-peer validation system, anyone who tries to tamper with their version of the data and distribute it across the network will be identified and excluded from the network in the future. Blockchain is recognised as an accessible open-source technology following truly democratic rules, where everyone is equal and can participate, but also comes with other challenges related to money laundering and criminal activities. To understand the full picture of blockchain and its groundbreaking applications, we start as usual from the beginning.
Beyond blockchain, a distributed cloud is computation, storage, and networking in a micro-cloud located outside the centralized cloud. Establishing a distributed cloud situates computing closer to the end-user, providing decreased latency and opportunities for increased security.
Imagine the implications of these technologies to be applied throughout the internet.
Imagine a company like Amazon embracing distributed ledgers by storing all its operations on a blockchain instead of a central database. Everything from consumers shopping on amazon.com to all the sub-processes — from contractors to subcontractors — recorded on sidechains, meaning that ledgers still run on the same network but don’t get recorded on Amazon’s main chain. This means that all records are stored on one big Amazon blockchain — from a user buying an item on Amazon’s website to the fulfillment process being handled by a mix of robots and humans, to the transportation of any item delivered to the customer’s home, to all the contractors and subcontractors needed to make this happen — all of which are going on the chain.
Everything is already recorded digitally in a central Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) database, but a distributed ledger like a blockchain allows the consumer to dive so much deeper into the data. The Amazon blockchain allows the consumer to know the carbon footprint of any purchase made. It allows the consumer to explore the materials that make up the product purchased, detecting any risk of allergies or similar. Consumers can make a conscious choice about transporting by ship, plane, drone or car. The consumer can even confirm if a product is produced domestically or not, if that is a priority. Transparency can in many ways improve the decision-making of our daily needs, and blockchain provides a perfect solution to that. A great overview is given below in this TED talk:
With decentralised databases and apps, we have laid the foundation to power not just an IoT revolution, but also for AI to be exponentially smarter by learning from an incredible amount of information from distributed ledgers rather than closed off central databases.
Tsunami #3. AI and Robotics will be here, there and everywhere
The age of artificial intelligence is here and it’s not just hype. Big tech companies like Amazon AWS AI/ML, Google AI, IBM Watson, Microsoft AI are continuously improving the capabilities of their platforms, making AI available to the masses. If you’ve used Apple’s Siri, you’ve used AI. If you’ve built a chatbot with Google’s Dialogflow, you’ve developed an AI app.
Artificial Intelligence as a Service (AIaaS) has risen due to the fact that the hardware, software and staffing costs for AI can be expensive. AI as a Service allows individuals and companies to experiment with AI for various business purposes and sample multiple platforms before making a commitment. These developments within AI will start to hit the streets, mostly seen by the advancements within robotics.
Robotic technologies powered by 2020 decade AI will provide us with everything from performing life-saving surgery to replacing humans in dangerous working conditions to making businesses more efficient and helping humans with everyday tasks. According to the International Federation of Robotics, more than 3 million industrial robots will be in use in factories around the world by 2020. This means that the operational stock will have more than doubled within seven years from 2014-2020. What does it mean for workers and employees? An automatica survey of 7,000 employees in seven countries estimates that 70 percent of employees believe that robotics and automation offer the opportunity to qualify for higher-skilled work. But it’s not just robotics that offers the opportunity for higher-skilled work, this is what AI, in a nutshell, can offer to everyone. Let us explain.
You can only read that many books; You can only take that many classes; You can only watch that many documentaries. Why not tap into the vast amount of knowledge everyone else has? In other words, why not merge your biological intelligence with artificial intelligence, not siloing our limited biological intelligence from the intelligence explosion that AI is leapfrogging.
This is what the field of brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) are focused on, spearheaded by companies like Neuralink and Kernel, linking up our brains to powerful AI. This sounds like Sci-Fi, but Neuralink has already presented their first version called N1.
One important thing to keep in mind is that none of this will take you by surprise. You won’t go from having nothing in your brain to suddenly waking up with an electronic mesh in your head. Just like people didn’t go from the Apple IIGS to using Tinder overnight. Whole-brain interfaces will come gradually, and by the time the shift begins to happen with BMIs going mainstream, we’ll all be very used to the technology, and it’ll seem normal. Actually, this process has already started, and you probably didn’t even notice it. There are thousands of people currently walking around with electrodes in their brain. People with cochlear implants, retinal implants, and deep brain implants are all benefiting from early BMIs.
Regardless of how fast BMI bandwidth will grow, the budding industry of brain-machine interfaces is the seed of a revolution that could change just about everything. But in many ways, the future powered by a brain-machine interface isn’t really a new thing. If you take a step back, it looks more like the next big chapter in a trend that’s been going on for a long time. Language took forever to turn into writing, which then took forever to turn into printing, and that’s where things were when Voltaire was also writing about injustice. Then came electricity and the pace picked up. Telephone. Radio. Television. Computers. Internet. And just like that, everyone’s homes became spellbinding. Then phones became cordless. Then mobile. Computers went from being devices for work to windows into a digital world that fit into our pockets. Then phones and computers merged into an everything device, bringing the magic out of our homes right into our palms. And on our wrists. And in our glasses. We’re now in the early stages of a virtual and augmented reality revolution that will wrap the magic around our eyes and ears, all steps where computers move closer and closer to our brains.
As we get wired up, able to not only interact but also “think” with electronic devices, this is when AR/VR technology will transcend from gimmick to a spatial web unlike any we have seen prior.
Tsunami #4. Augmented Reality will propel the Spatial Web
People, places, and things in our world are being digitized and brought into the virtual world, becoming part of the digital domain. We are digitizing the physical and “physicalizing” the digital. Clear boundaries between the real and the virtual are dissolving, beautifully depicted in Microsoft’s mixed reality video:
Our near-term future has all of the indicators that the technologies that we’ve seen in our science fiction stories over the last century will be realized. As these come together, a new type of internet is emerging, known as the Spatial Web.
Humans exist in three dimensions, but our web today is flat. The web was designed for shared information, absorbed through a flat screen. But as proliferating sensors, ubiquitous AI and interconnected networks blur the lines between our physical and digital worlds, we need a Spatial Web to help us digitally map a three-dimensional world. While there’s no clear consensus about its definition, the Spatial Web refers to a computing environment that exists in three-dimensional space — a twinning of real and virtual realities — enabled via billions of connected IoT devices, and accessed through devices like VR/AR glasses, contact lenses, and evetually brain-machine interfaces. In this way, the Spatial Web will enable us to both build a twin of our physical reality in the virtual realm and bring the digital into our real environments. Geared with natural language search, data mining, machine learning, and AI recommendation agents, the Spatial Web is a growing expanse of services and information, navigable with the use of ever more sophisticated AI assistants and revolutionary new interfaces.
Where “Web 1.0” consisted of static documents and read-only data, “Web 2.0” introduced multimedia content, interactive web applications, and social media on two-dimensional screens. But converging technologies are quickly transcending the laptop and will even disrupt the smartphone in the next decade. With the rise of wearables, smart glasses, AR / VR interfaces and the IoT, the Spatial Web will integrate seamlessly into our physical environment, overlaying every conversation, every road, every object, conference room and classroom with intuitively presented data and AI-aided interaction, making up “Web 3.0”. This sounds futuristic, and perhaps something that will never happen in the coming decade, but we have already seen the first steps towards this type of internet from companies like MagicLeap creating their Magicverse:
In this new Spatial Web, my personal AI would act as an intermediary, accessing public or privately authorized data through a blockchain on my behalf, and then feed it through an interface layer composed of everything from my VR headset, to numerous wearables, to my BMI.
The power of the Spatial Web initially comes from its ability to describe the world in the language that the world speaks to us in — geometry. The Spatial Web lets us use a digitally-mediated universal language in which all information can become spatial. It enables the current information on the web to be placed spatially and contextually on objects and at locations, where we can interact with information in the most natural and intuitive ways, by merely looking, speaking, gesturing, or even thinking. But it also enables the digital to be more physical as sensors and robotics become embedded into our environments and onto the objects around us. It makes our world smarter as it adds intelligence and context to any place, any object, and every person that we encounter. It will enable us to accelerate and improve, augment and enhance every facet of our existence — our education, our creativity, our health, our businesses, our legal system, our politics, and our ecologies. The Spatial Web has the potential to move us from predominantly egocentric and ethnocentric concerns to more world centric ones that are more holistic, equitable, and inclusive. Not to mention empathetic.
This unbelievable convergence of technology is happening right before us, and it’s going to us to unimaginable places. However, a technology divide is on the rise, which is why it is key that we in the coming decade to technology democratization seriously.
Tsunami #5. Democratization of technology is (finally) happening
Think about the word democracy. The term democratization of technology simply means giving people more access to technology. As technology becomes more accessible, we can expect to see more rapid developments and innovations. The democratization of technology in 2020 will lead to more innovations, entrepreneurs, and inventions. Think about the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). We’re living in an age in which people don’t have to be experts to create their own offerings on certain platforms, and even amateur developers can find success from producing their own products and services.
According to Gartner, the four key aspects of the democratization of technology will include application development, design, knowledge and data, and analytics. The best example of democratization can be credited to the developer, who will be able to generate data models without learning the skills of a data scientist. Imagine having a concept for a web or mobile app using artificial intelligence to design, code and build it without you having to know programming languages? That’s the future.
“The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed” is a saying that will be less and less common. The next billionaire is going to help the next billion, using technology that empowers the masses.
Within web, more and more website builders are popping up, some can even build websites for you based on drawings and mockups. Within mobile, either website builders are extending their repertoire to include mobile apps, or big players like Google acquiring AppSheet and Google App Maker will make it easy to build and deploy apps. This will result in all kinds of new and useful applications in our online and offline lives.
As technology continues to be democratized, more entrepreneurs and creators will continue to push innovation, accelerating technological progress even further in this decade. When technology accelerates, it is more important than ever to stay updated in order to stay relevant.
A normal day in the coming decade…
Your digital assistant goes through your calendar and talks to your other electronic devices to plan your day while you sleep. With an eye on your sleep cycles, it wakes you at a time in which you will feel most refreshed, within a window of time you’ve previously approved. As you get ready, your assistant reads you the news, reports, and social media activity it determined to be of most interest to you, based upon all it’s learned from your schedules and communications. It updates you on the weather, upcoming meetings, and people you will see that day, and suggests the best time to leave the house based on traffic.
Your assistant tells you that it has already ordered flowers for your sister’s birthday (it knows that lilies are her favorite based on your previous purchases) and scheduled them for delivery that day. It also tells you that it’s booked a restaurant both you and your sister like at a time that’s convenient for both of you. Your first meeting for the day will be with an international team and held remotely. Before you leave for the office, you put on a pair of mixed reality glasses and greet your colleagues, who appear before you in a virtual boardroom. You all put in an earpiece, so that each side’s language is automatically translated for the other, without lag.
After the meeting, your assistant shows it has prepared a summary of the discussion, and has determined a task list based on next steps. Acting on your assistant’s advice on traffic patterns, you get into your driverless vehicle. As it takes you to your office, you fine tune a presentation you’re giving later on the vehicle’s digital hub. While you work on your presentation, your assistant offers supplementary information about the topic you’re focused on.
As you work throughout the day, your assistant automatically responds to routine emails and forwards emails to relevant colleagues based on guidelines you previously set. Your assistant continuously monitors your vitals. When your driverless vehicle drops you off at home, you check in with your doctor via a virtual visit before dinner. Your mobile device measures your blood pressure and oxygen levels and sends the data to your doctor. Drawing upon the latest results compared to a terabyte of data concerning your health record, your doctor determines you should take a medication that will help lower your blood pressure, tailored to your physiology. You leave for dinner, while your prescription is filled. It’s delivered by drone that night. Your assistant monitors your health as you take the medication, and if a concern arises, it asks your permission to schedule a doctor’s visit. As the days go by and you realize you need to get a break on your calendar, you tell your assistant to book a week-long vacation. Because it already knows so much about you, it will quickly propose a plan for you to approve or adjust.